Workers’ Party (WP) secretary-general Pritam Singh has highlighted how unfair it is that losing People’s Action Party (candidates) are placed in opposition wards as grassroots advisers when losing opposition candidates are not given the same benefits.
Mr Singh is one of the Members of Parliament (MPs) representing Aljunied GRC – the very first and only group representation ward that any opposition party has ever won in Singapore’s history.
While WP politicians serve Aljunied GRC as their elected parliamentarians and town councillors, the PAP has placed non elected PAP representatives and branch chairmen who run grassroots activities in the ward. Some of these non-elected PAP representatives ran against the WP in previous elections and lost.
Curiously, none of the opposition parties that have been defeated in other wards have had the opportunity to place their representatives and branch chairmen to run grassroots activities in the wards they hope to contest, in between election terms.
Pointing out how unfair this is, Mr Singh noted that making losing PAP candidates grassroots advisers in an opposition ward makes these ruling party members “relevant for residents” and allows them to “campaign for votes well before the General Elections” since their appointments as grassroots leaders gives them the authority to dispense “large sums of taxpayer dollars.”
Noting that the WP has to go through these losing PAP candidates to raise projects and gain approval on spending the S$40 million that is made available to all town councils for community upgrading projects, Mr Singh said:
“Each year, the Government makes available about $40m to all Town Councils for community improvement upgrading projects. But all MPs must go through their Grassroots Advisers to raise projects for consideration. In opposition wards like Aljunied and Hougang, the losing PAP candidates are the Grassroots Advisers.
“Through such upgrading projects, losing PAP candidates are made relevant for residents and can be said to campaign for votes well before the General Elections because they are embedded as leaders in various grassroots organisations that approve the dispensation of large sums of taxpayer dollars.”
Asserting that these benefits that losing PAP candidates get as grassroots advisers allow them to delay community improvement projects in opposition wards for years or ignore proposals altogether, Mr Singh said:
“This will not do, no matter who is in Government and who is the opposition. Singapore and Singaporeans deserve better.”
Mr Singh also noted that the fourth-generation PAP leaders’ recently warned of the dangers of a polarised society and dysfunctional politics as he asked whether these same ruling party politicians would “dare consider that the PAP’s divisive approach to politics may be the elephant in the room that will make Singapore a politically polarised society?”
Pointing out that the second-generation of leaders in Goh Chok Tong’s PAP cohort were overruled in their instinct to give Anson Community Centre and control of grassroots organisations to veteran opposition politician J.B. Jeyaretnam, Mr Singh indicated that this same brand of “divisive” politics is being practised today:
“As we get closer to the elections, more and more I hear various 4G leaders speak of the dangers of a polarised society, dysfunctional politics with social media often blamed, amongst other reasons. The 4G leaders also repeat calls for an inclusive society, co-creating policies etc. But would the 4G leaders dare consider that the PAP’s divisive approach to politics may be the elephant in the room that will make Singapore a politically polarised society?
“In this regard, the instincts of former Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong’s 2G team were not wrong. After the PAP lost the constituency of Anson to the Workers’ Party in 1981, PM Goh and his young team were minded to transfer the Anson Community Centre and control of grassroots organisations etc. to JB Jeyaratnam “to be fair”. But their natural instincts were overruled.
“And here we are.”
This is not the first time that Mr Singh has spoken up about such “political double standards”. Read his speech from a WP rally during the 2015 election campaign period here:
“Dear residents and voters of Punggol East and Sengkang West and fellow Singaporeans,
“When I very young, living in my family’s HDB flat in Sims Drive, I remember my mum bringing me down for an Art competition organized by either the Resident’s Committee (RC) or Citizens’ Consultative Committee (CCC), both of which come under the People’s Association.
“As a young boy, I saw these Grassroots Organisations (GROs) as comprising of groups of residents who sought to engage with the community they lived in. Fast forward about 35 years and as an opposition MP, I realised the so-called PA grassroots organisations are not always so innocent. A few residents, including those I have met in Aljunied GRC do work to engage with their community – for no political reason, but simply to look out for their neighbours and friends. I commend these RC members for their public spiritedness and neutrality.
“When the Aljunied MPs took over the GRC in 2011, our first welcome gift from the PAP was the transfer of the leases of 26 community sites where Aljunied residents gather and bond, from the Town Council to the People’s Association. The seven Resident’s Committees in Eunos received a directive from someone, I don’t know who, not to engage or have meetings in the RC Centre with the incoming Workers’ Party Town Council.
“So when in the past for example, RC members would assist the incumbent Town Council to look out for community issues such as declining standards of cleanliness, faulty lights and so forth – the RCs now disengaged from the new Town Council and just kept quiet. Some residents shared with me that there were a handful of mischievous RC members who went further, instead of alerting the Town Council to community issue, they used the opportunity to bad mouth the incoming opposition Town Councils.
“After 2011, the RCs in Eunos, through the Eunos Community Club, would send requests to AHPETC for use the HDB void decks for RC activities which I saw no reason to deny RCs the usage of. If they wanted to organize a durian party for residents, I thought – we live in a democracy – I would want them to treat any opposition party the same way, so go ahead. But in carrying out their durian party or any other activity, they would not forget to invite both the PAP Branch Chairman and Grassroots Advisor, an ex-PAP MP to mingle with residents. When I asked to be allowed to use a facility managed by the PA in my ward, the reply from the CCC Chairman, was a polite no. This is the simple reality of the People’s Association in opposition wards, an organization that supposedly exists to encourage greater communal harmony in our country. This caused me to think hard about what the PAP Government means when it wishes for an inclusive Singapore, and what a hollow and insincere call it was, in view of the structure of our so-called grassroots organisations.
“The CCC sits at the apex of all grassroots organisations in Singapore. In this age of information, it remains one of the most mysterious organisations in Singapore. Many Singaporeans will not be able to tell you who the CCC Chairman of their ward is. Do you know your CCC Chairman?
“So who appoints the CCC and RC Chairmen in your ward? Well, the CCC Chairman and RC Chairman are appointed by the PAP MP, or losing PAP candidate in the constituency.
“The Straits Times previously interviewed several PA grassroots leaders and advisers who said that when they organize activities for residents, they also hope to win political mileage for the PAP MP, and by extension, for the PAP. And when they realise there are opposition supporters in the CCC, these individuals are told to leave.
“One CCC Chairman even went further to say that he expects his CCC members to join the PAP, and wants an explanation if they refuse. And he shamelessly went ahead to say that the CCC is (I quote), “a voluntary organization for the PAP” (unquote). If that was the case, why call it the Citizens’ Consultative Committee. Just call it the PAP Consultative Committee!
“If you think grassroots equals PAP grassroots only, and that this is an insult on our democracy and the values professed in our pledge and flag, there is an ever greater problem I have to share with you. These organisations, like the CCC – which use community work and communal harmony as a pretext – while also doing the PAP’s political bidding – are funded by our taxpayer money.
“In 2012, thanks to a parliamentary question filed by Mr Png Eng Huat, it was revealed that each of the 87 CCCs in Singapore were given $150,000 each per year from 2005 to 2011, and each of the 567 RCs received about $9500 per year. Now you understand part of the reason why the PA’s budget has recently been increased to $1b.
“One innocent RC member in Eunos asked me why the Workers’ Party did not organize more activities in the Community Club (CC) for residents. When I sat her down and told her that the CC is not open to opposition MPs for community purposes and that our community organisations do not receive any funding from the PA, she almost embarrassingly looked away. I told her that as long as she focused on serving the community and her neighbours and working with whichever team that was elected by the people, she should not be embarrassed about anything. She looked at me and said, “But Mr Singh, this is so unfair. Now I know why we need an opposition.” I looked at her said, “now you know why I joined the Workers’ Party.”
“Ladies and Gentlemen, you must have noticed some of the PAP candidates in various constituencies offering promises of upgrading to residents in the form of new linkways, elderly-friendly facilities, new playgrounds etc. Have you wondered where the money for these programs come from?
“Well, if your precinct is not selected or eligible for the HDB Neighbourhood Renewal Program or NRP, the money is likely to come from the Community Improvement Projects Committee (CIPC), which comes under the MND. And who sits on the CIPC Committee in MND? Well, they are PAP MPs and Grassroots advisers. The CIPC disburses its funds by virtue of the CCCs recommendations, which I spoke of earlier. Unsurprisingly, an elected opposition MP has no say prioritizing projects for the constituency. And the PAP supporters then ask, why opposition cannot do what PAP MPs do? Well, that’s because the CCC Chairman is the boss, and that also partly explains why many PAP backbencher MPs can afford to continue in their high-paying jobs and be absent from Parliament, and continue with many directorships – because they leave much of the groundwork to their CCC and RC Chairmen.
“Each year, MND sets aside about $40m of its budget for CIPC projects that are executed through the various town councils. I found out that in the year 2009, 2010 and 2011, three consecutive years prior to GE2011, the Aljunied Town Council under the PAP was allocated about $4m each year from the CIPC Committee, a total of $12m dollars over three years. On a per year basis, that is about 10% of the entire CIPC budget each year. I don’t know why they received such a large share of the budget considering there are other PAP Town Councils in Singapore, but I suspect it could something to do with supporting the PAP in Aljunied GRC. For your information, from 2011 to 2015, AHPETC has received nothing.
“Since 2012, I have repeatedly asked the CCCs in Aljunied to support new improvement projects. After 18 months of trying, we managed to get some projects approved. We proposed about 50 projects, and about 17 were approved in 2013. Many that were rejected would otherwise have been approved in any other PAP ward, such as upgrading of playgrounds.
“In spite of 17 approvals two years ago, work has not started on any of them. All are very practical requests, for example, a barrier free access ramp between blocks to serve residents on wheelchairs, who need direct access to the bus stop for example. One of the CCC Chairmen in Bedok Reservoir regularly posts pictures of himself on facebook – showing how he has helped a residents install a small ramp outside their house. But he seems to conveniently forget the power that is vested in him by the PAP to push bigger things for residents – like requesting the CIPC Committee for funding not just to help individual residents, but the whole community of elderly folks by building facilities on the HDB common property, such as barrier free access ramps, which ironically also complete the home to bus stop journey for the handicapped or elderly person whom he just assisted by installing a small ramp at the doorstep.
“Why do the CCC Chairmen become so indifferent to helping the community in a bigger way in opposition wards? It is not because they are stone-hearted. It is not because they are bad people. The reason is because installing a barrier-free access ramp at the void deck to serve the elderly and handicapped involves it being built on highly visible Town Council common property. Should such a facility be built, residents would realise that living in an opposition Town Council is actually no different from being in a PAP ward. And in the PAP’s world, this cannot be so, even if it means short-changing and punishing residents.
“When I asked in Parliament recently how much CIPC funding was extended to each Town Council in Singapore from May 2011, the MND Minister gave a non-answer before ending off, “Town Councils may approach their respective CCCs if they have any enquiries or proposals.”
“My friends, CIPC funding which comes from taxpayers – like the CCCs – are intentionally organized to serve as a political tool of the PAP, and to make it difficult for any opposition party to make inroads into Singapore politics. The system has evolved over the years and has now become a disease that has permanently hosted itself.
“When the WP calls on Singaporeans in its manifesto to empower your future – it is a call on all of us to radically overhaul structures like the CCCs, RCs and the PA, and to unify our people so that we can genuinely call ourselves an inclusive society. That’s why we call on the PA to come under the President of Singapore instead of the Prime Minister, so we can remain a united country for the next fifty years, and protect ourselves from any political party that uses grassroots organizations to unfairly benefit itself, not just the PAP.
“The only way we can introduce greater equality and justice into our political system, is to teach the PAP an important lesson on 11 September. There is simply no other way.
“Empower your Future. Vote for the Workers’ Party!”